Summertime and vitello tonnato is easy
Vitello tonnato is the best proof we have that leftovers have a place in the world. The way we’ve cooked it, it is quite a fresh item, but I believe vitello tonnato is always better the next day. Or two days later. I don’t think I’ve ever made it without making more than I needed, and that’s always deliberate. Vitello tonnato out of the fridge a day after it’s been made is hands down the best filling for a sandwich. For me it is also probably one of the better meat antipasto preparations.
The original dish is Italian, from Piedmont, and often served at Christmas. The reasons are partly religious, but in Australia our summer makes the cold dish a happy addition to Christmas spreads.
The veal is often poached because originally secondary cuts were used, such as an eye round or girello. These were lean, and poaching kept the meat moist. They were often cooked the day before and cooled in liquid, which allowed the meat to develop in flavour. It could then be cut more thinly.
I like to roast the meat in a moderate oven, allowing it to caramelise. It brings another flavour to the dish.
Traditionally fresh tuna would have been made into a confit in oil or water before being whisked into a sauce: the original and probably most elegant surf ’n’ turf. If I were going to use fresh tuna, I wouldn’t make it into a sauce but flake it into shards to retain the texture of the tuna. But if you are going to puree something into a sauce, tinned is completely acceptable. Adding a few anchovies to the tinned tuna heightens the sense it once came from the ocean – a kind of umami. Slivers of anchovy are also sometimes used to garnish the dish.
Often, the veal is slathered in tuna sauce and it can dominate. For this dish, however, I’ve used the sauce more sparingly to not completely hide the quality of the meat. I’ve used a premium cut of veal, the rack, and so would eat it on the day. But any leftovers should be slathered in sauce and put in the fridge. The secret to the vitello tonnato sandwich is good white bread with a decent crust. This preparation is elevated somewhat when accompanied by a healthy hangover.
This recipe is great served with boiled kipfler potatoes that are salted and dressed with heaps of chopped parsley and lemon. There should also be sufficient leftovers for a best-ever sandwich the following day.
– 800g boneless rack of veal, trussed by your butcher
– salt and freshly ground pepper
– 3 tbsp vegetable oil
– 2 tbsp salted capers, rinsed and drained
– tuna mayonnaise (recipe below)
– 1 egg
– salt flakes
– 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 150ºC.
Generously season the veal with salt and pepper.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan with two tablespoons of the vegetable oil and brown the veal well all over, then roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, you want to reach an internal temperature of 45ºC.
While the veal is cooking, make the tuna mayonnaise and set it aside.
When the veal is ready, remove it to a plate, loosely cover with aluminium foil and leave to rest until it reaches room temperature.
Boil the egg for eight minutes then put it straight into a bowl of iced water until it’s cold. Peel and finely chop the white and the yolk separately.
In a small saucepan, fry the capers in one tablespoon of vegetable oil until they’re crisp. Tip them onto paper towels to drain.
To serve, thinly slice the veal and arrange it on a serving plate, then spoon some tuna mayonnaise between and over the slices of meat. Scatter over the chopped egg white, yolk and capers. Season the dish with a pinch of salt flakes and spoon over the extra virgin olive oil.
– 1 x 185g tin of tuna in spring water, drained
– 1 egg yolk
– ½ clove garlic, chopped
– 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– 150ml grape seed or vegetable oil
Place the tuna, egg yolk, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice in a blender with a generous pinch of salt.
With the blender running, pour in the oil in a steady stream as the sauce emulsifies. Check the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.
2013 Cantina Terlan pinot bianco blend, Alto Adige, Italy ($37) – Liam O’Brian, sommelier, Cumulus Inc
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 18, 2014 as "Midnight tonnato". Subscribe here.